Special Exhibition :
In celebration of the Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, which is a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, MOAH presents its winter exhibition, Imagen Angeleno. This exhibition will include solo exhibits of work by: Ken Gonzales-Day, Abel Alejandre, Ana Rodriguez and Linda Vallejo. The Main Gallery will feature a special exhibition, Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment, guest-curated by Rodrigo d’Ebre and Lisa Derrick. Inspired by the 2016 documentary film Dark Progressivism, written by Rodrigo d’Ebre and co-directed by Rodrigo d’Ebre and James J. Yi, this exhibition highlights the street and public art movements that characterize Los Angeles’ Southland. Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment answers the question of which movements are shaping 21st century art with a multi-faceted approach that looks to the streets of LA, where innovations in design and the idea of vandalism as a form of artistic resistance are embedded in the city’s identity.
Artists featured in Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment include: Michael Alvarez, Sandow Birk, Chaz Bojorquez, Liz Brizzi, Roberto Chavez, Gajin Fujita, Peter Greco, Roberto Gutierrez, Jason Hernandez, Juan Carlos Munoz Hernandez, Louis Jacinto, Susan Logoreci, Manuel Lopez, Eva Malhotra, Horacio Martinez, Jim McHugh, Gerardo Monterrubio, Nunca, Estevan Oriol, Cleon Peterson and Lisa Schulte, Felix Quintana, Carlos Ramirez, Erwin Recinos, Rafael Reyes, Joe ‘Prime’ Reza, Sandy Rodriguez, Shizu Saldamando, Alex Schaefer, Jaime Scholnick & Big Sleeps.
Curated by Rodrigo Ribera d'Ebre and Lisa Derrick
The Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment exhibit is a survey of the region’s Dark Progressivism school of thought, which dates back to the Great Depression, and is brought into current day. Special emphasis is placed on the post-war era through the present. The exhibit sheds light on the organic relationship between photography, painting, literature, architecture, sculpture, cinema, mural, and typography. The creation and production of these works derive from a noir cityscape, in a land where the bright colors of flora and fauna, native and transplanted, belief somber secrets and complex histories. The origin of Dark Progressivism begins with the built environment. As a result of restrictive housing covenants against people of color, clusters of orderly and planned suburbs sprouted all over the metropolis, while high density, marginalized, and underdeveloped communities developed elsewhere, forming a belt around Downtown Los Angeles. Far from tourist destinations, these communities were invisible and associated with slum housing. During the Depression, people of color, born and raised in Los Angeles, were fired from public sector jobs so that “White Americans” could find employment, while thousands of Mexican Americans and Mexican-born immigrants were repatriated to Mexico.
At the same time, “socially progressive” housing projects were designed by renowned architects as a form of containment to house low-income Mexican and Mexican American communities. Housing projects such as Maravilla, Rose Hills Courts, Ramona Gardens, Pico Aliso Village, Dogtown, and several others became a reality, and thousands were displaced into the shadows of the projects; thus people of color and these communities became more invisible and further fragmented. On the bleak streets of this built environment, the youth responded by writing graffiti on walls in the form of community plaques, and carving names and neighborhoods in cement to show that they too existed in the dark metropolis.
From then, through the changes, whether physical and social, violent or benign, of the ensuing decades, contemporary artists in a variety of mediums have been directly informed by this noir cityscape. Dark Progressivism: The Built Environment deconstructs the metropolis’ trajectory through an unprecedented historical lens, with works from artists who are not only impacted by the opaque topography, but who are also contributing to the dialog of progress.
Racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of persons of color remains at the center of political debates about criminal justice, terrorism, national security and immigration reform despite the increasing understanding that race has more to do with culture than biology. Many studies have been made involving the literary and art-historical depictions of race in text and painting, but the sculpted figure and the portrait bust have garnered little attention. Ken Gonzales-Day: Profiled addresses these forms.
It became evident in Gonzales-Day’s research that historically sculptures and portrait busts were created using other works of art such as photographs or illustrations as reference. Many sculptures are copies of copies and with each new artist comes a reinterpretation of the previous. This cycle of replication has resulted in the progressive distortion of the subjects’ depiction. In others, the busts were not busts at all, but fragments from larger sculptures composited from various models. Profiled is about more than the uncanny double, it is about the fragmented and fractured subject and its visual potential.
Ken Gonzales-Day is a Los Angeles based artist whom received a BFA from Pratt Institute, an MFA from the University of California Irvine, an MA from Hunter College and is now a Professor of Art and Humanities at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. His work has been widely exhibited including: LACMA, Los Angeles; LAXART, Los Angeles; Tamayo Museum, Mexico City; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; The New Museum, New York City; Generali Foundation, Vienna, and more. Ken Gonzales-Day was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography in 2017.
The Brown Dot Project
Linda Vallejo’s The Brown Dot Project continues her work examining the growing Latino population and American’s changing attitudes towards color and class. The Brown Dot Project began with the artist’s consideration of statistics concerning Latino populations and how abstract painted works could spark a dialog about these numbers and their influence on the viewer’s perception of race and class.
The “brown dot” abstract image of these Latino data numbers emerged after much trial and error. Once Vallejo’s work led her to the grid, she began dividing them into quadrants and a pattern began to manifest. Vallejo continued the project’s production by experimenting with formal variations based on Latino percentages and her experiences with indigenous weaving. The first images she produced recalled American Indian and Mesoamerican blankets, weavings and ancient ceremonial sites. Later, Mondrian, Chuck Close, Agnes Martin, Charles Gaines, and other grid-oriented modernists came to mind as she was forced to create new variations within the work.
Vallejo studies a variety of data sets, including topics such as the number of Latinos in any given city or state, the national number of Latino executives, the number of Latinos involved in the American Civil War. As an example: The population of Los Angeles County is represented by 48,400 total squares. The county’s Latino population (48.3%) is represented by 23,377 dots arranged in 467 sets of 50 dots each (and one set of 27 additional dots). As her dates sets expand, so too have the works, growing in size from 9 square inches to 24 square inches, the largest of which are 36 square inches. Counting of these squares and dots, completing the corresponding mathematics, and “dotting” the page takes hours of concentration on both topic and execution.
Abel Alejandre spent the first seven years of his life in the rural region of Tierra Caliente, Mexico. In these early years, Alejandre and his family lived without electricity and running water. They emigrated to Los Angeles in 1975, which Alejandre describes as being akin to traveling a century into the future. Looking back to this transformative period, Alejandre aims to examine and reinterpret what it means to be a human being, a man and the member of a community. These themes are explored in his work as his subject matter focuses on discounted and overlooked moments that subversively yet actively shape our culture. By isolating these instances into hyperrealist vignettes Alejandre intends to stimulate the onlookers’ reflection.
The autobiographical elements of Alejandre’s work delve into the public and private spheres of masculinity and vulnerability. He frequently uses roosters to symbolize machismo, manhood, valor and patriarchy as they are animals known for their fierce instinct, beauty and determination to fight until its enemy is completely dispatched. Through his work Alejandre evaluates and questions the role of masculinity’s in contemporary society.
For over twenty years Abel Alejandre has been perfecting his practice in acrylics, woodblock prints and graphite. Alejandre’s graphite drawings makes up the largest body of work and require upwards of five months to bring to fruition, averaging eleven hours per day and consumes about 700 pencils each.
Ana Rodriguez’ canvases—with their feminine color palettes of pinks and purples and dripping textures that are reminiscent of frosting or cake batter—are at once mysterious, feminine and deeply personal. The artist grew up in the small community of Maywood, California, neighbor to the numerous chemical plants, refineries, public waste areas and foundries of Commerce and Vernon. As a child, Rodriguez recalls being highly aware of how the rancid smells of these factories mixed with the sweet scents of small bakeries and cake shops in her city. Memories of this olfactory sensation are pervasive throughout her current body of work.
Rodriguez’ paintings also often incorporate references to the 99 Cent Store decorations that adorned her childhood home, providing a link to her family’s social class in an attempt to acquire a deeper understanding of the nature of classifying beauty and objects of value. Patterns reminiscent of kitchen cabinet liners, linoleum flooring, wallpaper and fabric from childhood toys and clothes emerge from beneath dripping washes of color in an amalgam of neon and pastel hues and abstract forms that seem to melt and ooze in and out of gravity.
Allusions to the natural environment are also present in the artist’s color palette: splashes of pink mix with orange and gold, evoking the striking appearance of East Los Angeles’ sunsets, melting over the smokestacks of factories and the rooftops of crowded apartment complexes. Nostalgia and memory, fantasy and whimsy collide, mingle and overwhelm as abstraction and pattern coexist across Rodriguez’ paintings.
Ana Rodriguez earned a BFA from California State University Long Beach and an MFA from Otis College of Art and Design, where she currently teaches.